6. Ages to Hontanas 54.70 km

After a tasty breakfast in an albergue or a local bar continue cycling on the road, the BU-V-7012. 2.30 kilometres of a nice and easy ride among the fields brings you to Atapuerca

Atapuerca 953m; 2.30 km2.70 km to Olmos de Atapuerca

Atapuerca is a small town at the foot of the limestone Atapuerca Massif, known worldwide thanks to its archaeological site. An archaeological survey of this area started a hundred years ago but the most sensational finds were discovered in the last 20 years. A team of researchers found the earliest remains of a human ancestor in Europe. The fossils were different from anything else we knew before, so hominid was given a new name – Homo antecessor. He lived in the caves of the Atapuerca Massif some million years ago. He was about 5 to 5.6 feet tall and made his own tools. His brain was smaller than Homo sapiens’, but unlike apes he was right-handed. Every year of excavations brings new finds and widens our knowledge of the oldest European. In 2000 Atapuerca was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

There are two albergues in Atapuerca. The second one doesn’t have brilliant reviews on the Internet:

Albergue El Pelegrino, 36 beds, opens from March until 1st November, heating, a kitchen, 8 Euros

Albergue La Hutte, 18 beds, open all year round, 5 Euros

Continue cycling on the BU-V-7012 passing Olmos de Atapuerca (941m; 5 km19 km to Burgos Cathedral; Albergue municipal, 24 beds, open all year round, heating, kitchen, 7 Euros), keep going straight on and when you cross the bridge over the railroad take the road to Burgos marked as the BU-701 (that’s the same road you cycled on in Montes de Oca if you took route three).

Olmos de Atapuerca to Villafria.PNG
Olmos de Atapuerca to Villafria Copyright OpenStreetMap Contributors

Minutes later this road will lead you to a dual carriageway, the N-I that used to be the main Spanish road from Madrid to Irun. Aim for Burgos. Even though most of the traffic left to the nearby highway, the road still seems to be a favourite for some of the lorry drivers. Which for cyclists is always good news. This will be your ‘cycling with the lorries’ experience today. Fortunately, the hard shoulder is quite wide and you can complete the first part of the experience in 10 minutes because it is a well-known fact that a scared person pedals faster. Just keep your distance from Homo antecessors in cars and you will be fine.

Just before your road all of the sudden becomes a highway (at about 6 kilometre from Olamos; 11 km), turn right towards Villafria (it is still the N-I) and at the roundabout over the highway a minute later choose the road towards Villafria again. When you get to the town take a side lane (separate from the road at about 10th km from Olamos; 16 km). It is not the greatest part of the Camino, but you will have it done in 15 minutes as it’s only about 4 kilometres and believe me walking along the N-I is much worse as this takes ages.

Pass a roundabout over the highway and at the next traffic light switch to the cycle lane. Stop one kilometre further on at the traffic light where the cycle path turns right and walk to the other side of the street where McDonald’s is (Passeo de Juan Ramon Jimenez; on your left; 14 km from Olamos; 19 km). There is a cycle lane marked out along this street (first on the left, then on the right). Burgos Cathedral is 5 kilometres away from this point.

Cycle lane to Burgos Cathedral 2
Cycle lane in Burgos. Copyright OpenStreetMap Contributors

1.50 kilometres further on, cross a bridge over a small river (by the small waterfall) and come into a lovely park. On the bicycle lane with your back to the river, turn right to Burgos or left if you wish to visit Cartuja de Miraflores (1 km away; an absolute must-see; directions and opening hours below).

The park you are in is called Fuentes Blancas and you are cycling along the River Arlanzon and later on, you cycle along the river boulevard. Leave the cycle path when you see the gate to the cathedral (the 14th century Arco de Santa Maria, one of twelve medieval city gates, converted in the 16th century into a triumph arch; one of the symbols of Burgos).

Burgos 861m; 24 km10.30 km to Tardajos

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Arco de Santa Maria, one of twelve medieval city gates, the 14th century, converted in 16th century into a triumph arch, Burgos Photography: Katarzyna Kostrzewska

Burgos as you probably realized cycling through its suburbs is a huge city and is of great importance for Spanish economics. For centuries it was the centre of commerce. In the 14th-century merchants went to England and Flanders to gain professional experience in overseas trade. The city became rich and cosmopolitan; the 15th and 16th centuries were called the Golden Age of Burgos Trade. Everything changed with the crash of wool market between Spain to Flanders at the end of the 16th century. A recession lasted until the 18th century. Only in the 20th century did the city once again become an important economic centre.

Burgos is the city of Sid, a medieval hero and paragon of a knight’s virtue. His monument is in the city centre and his sword in Burgos Museum. You can also walk a trail named after him. The knight is the main character from the oldest epic poem written in Spanish. Although we are not sure about the authorship of the manuscript we know it was written not long after Sid’s death from the preservation of historical and geographical realities, as well as avoiding mythologizing the knight’s character.
Burgos is also the historical capital of Castile. And its heart is the Cathedral.

Cathedral (visit takes around 2 hours; an absolute must-see; opens from 19 March until 31 October 9.30.-19.30; last entrance at 18.30 and from 1 November until 18 March 10.00-19.00; last entrance 18.00; lockers for panniers inside, read below)

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Splendid French cathedral built in Spain thanks to an English bishop, The South Portal, The Cathedral, Burgos Below: The Cathedral, Burgos Photography: Katarzyna Kostrzewska

Burgos is a city that vaunts one of the finest Gothic cathedrals in Europe. Artists and artisans worked for hundreds of years to build a temple that reached the height of artistry. It is purely splendid from the exterior to the interior. The cathedral owes its existence to King Ferdinand the Saint and Mauricio, bishop of Burgos who loved French Gothic. The foundation stone was laid in 1221. Bishop Mauricio had the building of the cathedral in his care, having a clear vision of what it should look like. And it does – like a magnificent Cathedral in Reims. 132.JPGMauricio devoted his time not only to the temple but also to a collection of money. He was raising funds for the temple, as well as contributing part of his own fortune. Even though the cathedral was consecrated in 1260, twenty-two years after the bishop’s death, all credit went to him for its structure and beauty. Thanks to an English bishop (Mauricio was the son of an English merchant) Spain today has a splendid French cathedral.133

Over the centuries the cathedral was enlarged and modernized, but never lost its original Gothic shape from the 13th century. It was adorned with the best pieces of sculpture, painting and architecture. The cathedral is huge, so I will highlight only some of these pieces. Practical advice would be to walk around the building and not to try to see and remember everything, as it’s just impossible unless you are prepared to spend 48 hours inside. Instead focus on that what catches your eye, letting the cathedral itself reveal its magic to you.

The South portal (from the square side) was finished in bishop Mauricio’s lifetime. Very elegant it shows Christ surrounded by the four Evangelists. The Main portal (west), flanked by two towers dates back from the 15th century but has 17th-century additions. A statue of Madonna and the towers are the work of Juan de Colonia, a 15th-century German architect who brought the Flamboyant style to Burgos. Meanwhile, the North portal (from the albergue’s side) is a good example of early Gothic art. When you walk around the cathedral you will notice a dome over the transept, surrounded by pinnacles and statues of saints in transitional Renaissance-Gothic style and behind this, a proud finial of Constable’s Chapel with a tangle of pinnacles and turrets finished with spires. Every meter of the exterior is finished with care, as medieval masters built not for human admiration but for God’s. Quite often the most beautiful parts are hidden high in the ceilings, roofs or towers, not intended for men to see. Some of them were discovered however in the 20th century thanks to new tools and techniques. So, it is worth spending some time looking at the cathedral, paying attention to detail. And make some discoveries of your own.

Once inside (as a pilgrim with a credencial you pay 4.50 Euros and will also be given a key for a locker where you can leave your bags; bicycle stands are available outside – use only those one on the main square alternatively ask if you can leave your bike in the albergue municipal) you will receive a portable Audio Guide.

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The openwork lantern vault over the transept. According to King Philip II “work of Angels, not of men”, the Cathedral, Burgos. Below: The Cathedral’s interior and Golden staircase Photography: Katarzyna Kostrzewska

When you enter the cathedral, you will notice on your left the door to the cloister. This splendid portal was carved in 1270 and represents a very interesting iconographic theme. A Gothic construction frames the walnut door from the end of the 15th century, made by yet another brilliant artist, Gil de Siloe, considered the best Spanish sculptor of the 15th century. His works are marked by a wealth of elaborate detail.

Gil de Siloe and Juan de Colonia not only worked together on the construction site of Burgos cathedral but also were close friends. IMG_1148Opposite the portal described above, there is the 15th century Chapel of the Visitation funded by Bishop Alonso de Cartagena, another extraordinary figure in the cathedral’s history. He travelled a lot, often sent on diplomatic missions. He was a writer, poet, philosopher- a real Renaissance man. He attracted artists, showing them new trends in art. The cathedral owns its early Renaissance works to his influence just as the Gothic structure to bishop Mauricio. The sepulchre of bishop Cartagena is a joint work from the two friends. The bed is attributed to architect Juan de Colonia while its lying statue, a vestment made with particular care, is the work of sculptor Gil de Siloe.

135Both also worked together on the Chapel of St Anne – Juan together with his son Simon built it, while Gil carved the best parts of the altar. Close to this chapel there is another with the Golden staircase, created again by father and son and the Flemish Gothic altarpiece made by Gil.

However, the jewel in the crown is the Chapel of the Constables, a perfect and unique example of transitional Gothic-Renaissance style. Its building was commissioned by Constable of Castile in 1482, a year after Juan de Colonia’s death. Its original structure is his son Simon’s work. Eight-sided windows and a magnificent pierced stellar vault brightly light the chapel. The Gothic altarpiece is carved by Gil de Siloe, while the other Renaissance ones are made by younger artists – Gil’s son Diego and Felipe de Vigarny. Finished over 500 years ago the chapel still makes a huge impression on all its visitors. It is simply splendid.

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Magnificent Chapel of the Constables, the Cathedral, Burgos Below: Jesus Christ, Gil de Siloe Photography: Katarzyna Kostrzewska

Another unforgettable part of the cathedral is the openwork lantern vault over the transept (central part of the church) richly decorated with statues and reliefs. You might agree with King Philip II who said, “It seems to be the work of Angels, not of men”.

Over the West entrance, you can observe one of the symbols of Burgos – a 16th-century clock called Papamoscas with a grotesque looking statue that opens and closes its mouth every hour while ringing a bell. Adjoining the cathedral is a richly decorated 13th-century cloister. Today it houses a museum.

IMG_1141The cathedral is a very important cult place. In one of the chapels (you can get there without buying a ticket), there is a statue of a Black Christ, the 14th-century Flemish one, known as Burgos Christ. This figure was frequently mentioned over the centuries in the diaries of pilgrims going to Santiago.

Cartuja de Miraflores (4.40 km from the Cathedral or 1 km detour from the Camino)

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Flamboyant tombs of King Juan II and his wife Isabel de Portugal, Gil de Siloe, Cartuja de Miraflores. Below: 15th century Cartuja de Miraflores, Juan and his son Simon de Colonia, Photography: Katarzyna Kostrzewska

The building of the Carthusian monastery was commissioned by the Castilian King Juan II in the middle of the 15th century and finished after his death by his daughter Queen Isabel. The artists we know already from building Burgos cathedral built the church. Juan de Colonia designed the original project and works were continued by his son Simon. Gil de Siloe carved the main altar and sepulchre of Royals. The church is single-naved with a decorative Flamboyant vaulting. 138The wooden altar finished at the end of the 15th century shows the history of the Redemption and is gilded with American gold brought back by Columbus. In front of the altar, there are the beautiful Flamboyant tombs of King Juan II and his wife Isabel de Portugal. You see the mastery of Gil de Siloe in the way he draped fabrics around Royal couple. The sepulchre is regarded as one of his best works. As you noticed some of the statues surrounding the tomb are damaged. Vandals in Napoleon uniforms are responsible for this act of mindlessness; probably close friends of those who shot off the Sphinx’s nose. An absolute must-see.

Entrance by donation (Monday to Saturday 10.15-15.00 and 16.00-18.00; Sunday 11.00-15.00 and 16.00-18.00; visit will take about 20 min).

Burgos Cathedral to Cartuja de Miraflores
Burgos Cathedral to Cartuja de Miraflores Copyright OpenStreetMap Contributors

Cartuja de Miraflores is located at the other end of Fuentes Blancas, the charming park you cycled through on your way to Burgos. The way to the monastery is easy – when you get to the park by the bridge, turn left (instead of right for Burgos), or if you are in Burgos already, take the cycle lane to the park and follow it to the bridge. Close to the bridge on your right you will see a restaurant on the hill, climb up there, pass the restaurant and get to the tarmac road and follow the signposts. The Carthusian monastery is 500 hundred meters away at the end of the side road.

Entrance by donation (Monday to Saturday 10.15-15.00 and 16.00-18.00; Sunday 11.00-15.00 and 16.00-18.00; visit will take about 20 min).

Monasterio de las Huelgas (2 km from the Cathedral or 0.5 km detour from the Camino)

Alfonso VIII of Castile founded the convent at the end of 12th century. The king brought the Cistercian Order here. The convent was a very prestigious place – the first prioress was the sister of Richard the Lion-Heart. Nuns enjoyed many privileges until the end of the 16th century.

Monasterio de las Huelgas also served as a burial site for Royals between the 12th and 14th centuries. Inviolate tombs of Kings and Queens are an important part of Castile’s history.

Monasterio de las Huelgas is decorated in many parts in Mudejar style, characteristic of the Iberian Peninsula that is a combination of Arabic and Romanesque or Gothic elements. Good examples of this original style can be seen in the Royal Pantheon, cloisters and the Chapels of Assumption and Saint James. There are only guided visits to the monastery. Directions below.

On the cathedral square, you have Cathedral Information Office. The city albergue has a perfect location, situated behind the cathedral. It has an elegant sign that ideally blends in with the background, so in the end everybody passes it by, as the author of this guide-book did. So, when you realize that you left the cathedral behind and you still can’t see an albergue, come back the same way and don’t tear your eyes from the wall (recently the city added a new sign; visible one):

Albergue municipal (in front of the temple turn right (Calle Paloma) and left onto the second street (Calle del Cardenal Segura), that ends with “stairs”, walk your bike up the “stairs” and you will find yourself in front of the albergue), 150 beds, open all year round, heating, microwave, 5 Euros

Albergue parraquial Emaus (C/ San Pedro de Cardeña, 31; on your way to Burgos Cathedral, turn left onto Calle Molinillo, the last street before the roundabout with an equestrian statue, and left again onto the fourth street; albergue is on your left in white sacral building with a two-columned portico), 20 beds, opens from 1st April until 1st November, heating, 5 Euros, shared dinner/breakfast

There is a third albergue, Divina Pastora that doesn’t have space for bicycles; not a great loss, at least you won’t have to listen to the hospitaliero playing the acoustic guitar.

If you stayed in albergue municipal you might feel tempted to follow the Camino signs. Do not as you finish in a maze of one-way streets. Instead go back to the Cathedral square (the way you cycled to the albergue), cross it and ride through the city gate aiming for the same bicycle lane you arrived in Burgos. When you get onto it turn right. The comfortable cycle lane that brought you to Burgos will lead you out of the city. The lane is parallel to the N-120 and for some time you will cycle next to the River Arlanzon.

The Camino from the Cathedral
Cycle lane will lead you out of Burgos Copyright OpenStreetMap Contributors

Later on the main road branches away from the river and so does the lane (if you want to visit Las Huelgas turn left by a walled park and left again as the signpost indicates). Ride the lane to the end and then switch to the N-120 (there are plans to extend the bicycle lane, so make sure that you are cycling parallel to the N-120). There might be some traffic and strong wind, but the road has a wide hard shoulder, so it is ok to ride on.

Pass Villalbilla de Burgos (at 31 km) and at the roundabout keep yourself far away from the highway, aiming for Leon (the N-120). Less than two kilometres on you get to

Tardajos (799m; 34.30 km1.60 km to Rabe de la Calzadas) with a small albergue mostly for walkers and two rather stylish private ones:

Albergue de Tardajos, 18 beds, opens from 19th March until 1st November, no space for bikes, donation

Albergue La Fábrica, 32 beds, open all year round, heating, 12 Euros

Albergue La Casa de Beli, 50 beds, open all year round, heating, a kitchen, 10 Euros

In Tardajos, switch from the N-120 to the Camino. For the next 1.60 kilometres the trail goes into the local road. Less than ten minutes later you will enter

Rabe de la Calzadas (835m; 35.9 km8 km to Hornillos de Camino), a tiny town with a bar and albergue that has a bicycle on its stamp. In the 10th century, Rabe de la Calzadas and Tardajos vaunted three churches and castle each. Today they are small but pleasant towns:

Albergue Liberanos Domine, 24 beds, open all year round, heating, 8 Euros

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Cycling on the top of a plateau, Rabe de las Calzadas to Hornillos del Camino, Province of Burgos Photography: Katarzyna Kostrzewska

I didn’t want to mention it before, but I guess it is raining… from early this morning or maybe even yesterday afternoon. It probably started somewhere around Villafranca Montes de Oca and you suspect that it may stay like this all the way to Santiago de Compostela. It won’t, it is just the Province of Burgos. I mean in theory it’s not so bad, I checked and Burgos has an average of 5/8 days of rain a month, but somehow I always pass through on one of those five. I imagine you as well.

For the next 53 kilometres or more you will cycle on field tracks. The road might be muddy, but absolutely ok to ride. This part of the Camino is absolutely brilliant. You cycle on the top of a plateau that gives you a feeling of riding on the roof of Europe. The landscape is austere and cool; I have to admit that I find it beautiful in a different way. You are now cycling in the Meseta Central, a plateau in the heart of the Iberian Peninsula. On the way to Santiago, it stretches out from Burgos to Leon. The scenery around you will change as every part of the Meseta has its own character. Only one thing will be constant – a feeling of insignificance in relation to its open spaces. Personally, I find it very liberating.

Rabe de Calzadas to Hornillos
Rabe de las Calzadas to Hornillos de Camino Copyright OpenStreetMap Contributors

The field track behind Rabe de la Calzadas goes up. Rabe de Calzadas to Hornillos. ElevationThe surroundings are uninhabited so please do the trail between Rabe and Boadilla del Camino (about 47 km) only in the daytime when you will see others walking/cycling it too, not too early or too late in the afternoon. 8 km on and you enter

Hornillos de Camino (823m; 43.90 km10.80 to Hontanas)

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In the vicinity of Hornillos del Camino, Province of Burgos Photography: Katarzyna Kostrzewska

A small town where a few years ago I observed with great satisfaction how bed bugs were eating alive a fellow pilgrim I had just met and immediately started to hate for talking aloud at night and shining a torch in my face; that was actually the beginning of our friendship. Although bed bugs are a problem in many other places, in albergue municipal in Hornillos de Camino they seemed to have a permanent visa for years. But of course you are more than welcome to stay here I even hazard a guess that you are expected:

Albergue municipal, 32 beds, open all year round, a kitchen, 5 Euros

Albergue El Alfar de Hornillos, 20 beds, opens from April until the end of October, heating, a kitchen, 9 Euros

Albergue Hornillos Meeting Point, 36 beds, open from March until the end of October, heating, a kitchen, 8 Euros

Hornillos to Hontanas 1
Hornillos de Camino to Hontanas Copyright OpenStreetMap Contributors

The trail between Hornillos de Camino and Hontanas runs on the top of the upland. The field track goes up and down in between deserted hills and your only companion is the raging wind. After cycling for about 6 kilometres you will pass San Boal (50 km), a very basic albergue established in place of a no longer existent ancient monastery. Hornillos to Hontanas. Elevation 1There is a small spring and good atmosphere. You can drink a coffee there or stay for the night:

Albergue Arroyo de San Bol, 12 beds, opens from April until mid-October, heating, shared dinner, 5 Euros

Less than 5 kilometres later you enter Hontanas (887m; 54.70 km7.80 km to Castojeriz).

Hontanas – a town hidden in a small basin. Province of Burgos Photography: Katarzyna Kostrzewska

The town is hidden in a small basin, so it emerges in front of you quite unexpectedly. I think the view of the town’s roofs will appeal to you. Hontanas belonged in the past to the bishops of Burgos and the remains of their palace adjoin the church. The 14th-century temple is the proud owner of an altar carved in wood by Fernando de la Pena, Baroque master and author of the brilliant retablo in Navarette. This old hospital for pilgrims was converted into an albergue municipal – you will see inside its medieval arch:

Albergue Juan de Yepes, 54 beds, opens from the beginning of March until the end of October, heating, kitchen, 8 Euros

Albergue municipal de Hontanas, 55 beds, open all year round, heating, a kitchen, 6 Euros

Albergue Santa Brigida, 14 beds, opens from mid-March until the beginning of October, heating, a kitchen, 7 Euros

Albergue el Puntido, 54 beds, open all year round except in winter, heating, a kitchen, 6 Euros